Just like a Thai sunrise, one will experience the Nana Entertainment Plaza at some point on their visits to the Kingdom. It is a place that you will likely remember for many reasons and, like most phenomena, requires a few visits, some ruminating and a good surveying from several vantage points to properly get one’s head around it. Notwithstanding, a balls-deep laissez-faire approach works equally well – it is of course up to you.
What’s in a name?
Surprisingly straightforward! Plaza: a public square, marketplace, or similar open space in a built-up area. Entertainment: Do we need to explain this? As sure as a person from the opposite side of the world knows about Singapore’s Draconian laws, they knew what goes on here! Nana: named after the politician, philanthropist and property owner, Lek Nana.
Khun Lek was a Muslim of Gujarati ancestry and served in various prominent posts throughout his political career. Nana was nicknamed “The Landlord of Bangkok” because of his extensive holdings along Sukhumvit Road and in particular, the Soi Four area. Many establishments and buildings bear his name including of course, the BTS station, The Hotel, the Plaza and ultimately, Soi Four itself.
His philanthropy was demonstrated by the large land parcels that he donated to benefit the Democratic Party offices, medicine – in the form of a hospital – and for the Princess Mother Memorial Park in the Khlong San district of the city. Lek Nana died in 2010 of a heart attack while in hospital.
The delivery of a Den of Iniquity
Nana Plaza was already a bustling marketplace before the bars came. It was a typical mix of small businesses but with a Middle Eastern flavour. The intersection around Soi Three and Four always has had a metropolitan feel.
Further up the road began earnest roadworks; the Asok interchange was being expanded and developed. This led to the immediate closure of a number of bars that were situated right on the main road between Soi Fourteen and Sixteen and upon realising that there was nothing concrete in terms of when and exactly where they could reopen, the owners quickly sought out alternative locations.
In mid 1982, a Sunshine Bar, a Rainbow bar, two Rosemarys (Rosemary 1&2) and Three Roses moved swiftly to Nana Plaza to joint Lucky Luke’s and, partly owing to the layout of the Plaza, created a cauldron of sizzling fun that is still red hot thirty years on.
However, during the Eighties, this was simply a clutch of bars and were not cast in the mould of Patpong and Soi Cowboy.
These bars enjoyed exceptional foot flow from the busy hotels and guest houses in immediate proximity. By this time, tourism had hit big. Tourist traps were making serious money and tourists had a lot of money to spend.
Tempting and Taming the Tourist Tiger
The Government quickly realised by the end of the 70s that greater intervention was needed as tourism was such a great contribution to the national economy. Before that, tourism growth was largely overlooked.
Tourist arrivals were at 1.86m in 1980 and tourism receipts were at 17.8bn baht. By the year 2000, arrivals were at 9.51m and their spend was circa 285bn baht. Arrivals at the end of 2012 were 22.3m and the first half of 2013 is up 20% year-on-year.
By 1982, Thailand had crossed the threshold into international tourism being their biggest earner in terms of foreign exchange revenue.
*This article is the 1st of a 3 part series about Nana Plaza